ST. LOUIS -- So that flu you were planning on coming down with Friday might also force you to the sports bar. Er, doctor.
Game 2 of the National League Division Series between the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals will be shown exclusively on MLB Network, which could leave many fans in the dark when the first pitch rolls around at 1:07 p.m.
The network is available in most Western Pennsylvania homes. But hundreds of thousands in the area -- and millions nationwide -- will be left without access to the game. For Pittsburgh sports fans who are used to watching their favorite teams play meaningful games, this is new.
The NFL allows local affiliates to simulcast regular-season games that are carried on cable networks, such as ESPN and the league's own NFL Network. When the Penguins play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, games that air nationally on the NBC Sports Network are often carried locally on Root Sports.
But MLB Network owns exclusive broadcast rights to Game 2 of the NLDS. And the league will not intervene to broaden access to Pirates fans who have spent 21 years in baseball purgatory -- or worse.
"We are extremely disappointed that a portion of our valued fan base may be unable to watch Friday's game on MLB Network because their local TV provider has refused to carry MLB Network," Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki said in a statement.
Disputes between league-owned networks and cable providers are nothing new -- just ask the Big Ten Conference and almost every cable company in America. While it's rarely clear who wins these battles of multi-billion dollar corporations, the fans always are pawns.
MLB Network is distributed to 71 million homes nationwide, or 62 percent of all television-owning households. By contrast, Turner Broadcasting System, which aired the Pirates' wild-card game Tuesday, is available in 100 million homes nationwide, 88 percent of all television-owning homes.
Matt Bourne, vice president of business public relations, said in an email that with four games scheduled Friday, the league awarded rights to one game to MLB Network "because it is widely distributed nationally, has a 24-hour, seven day a week baseball focus and will provide unique and outstanding coverage."
Most TV owners in Western Pennsylvania already have access to MLB Network, said Lorraine Fisher, the network's media relations director. And spokesmen for Verizon Fios and Comcast XFINITY -- the region's largest cable providers -- say most of their subscribers have access to the network, which launched in 2009 and first started showing postseason games in 2012.
For most TV providers, the network is available only on expanded channel packages. In some cases, it's not available at all.
The Pirates and MLB Network encourage all fans to visit www.FindMLBNetwork.com to learn if the network is available to them.
There certainly is demand in the Pittsburgh market for playoff baseball. While ticket sales on the secondary market never dipped below $100, ratings for the wild-card game Tuesday night were the best-ever in the Pittsburgh market for a baseball game.
TBS reported the wild-card game had a 33.7 rating in the Pittsburgh market, meaning 33.7 percent of all homes that have a television in the area were tuned to the baseball game. Cincinnati, the second-highest rated market, drew a 16.6 rating, according to TBS.
The wild-card game drew 4.6 million viewers nationwide, a 15 percent increase from 2012, though the ratings were boosted by a weekday night game, as opposed to a Friday doubleheader last year.
"This is something that is completely out of control of the club," Warecki said. "With Tuesday's night game receiving the highest local rating ever, it is obvious the demand for Pirates baseball is as strong as it has ever been."
The Pirates will test a big screen on Federal Street outside PNC Park today to see if a projection of the game would work in direct sunlight. The game will be aired on the big screen tonight.
MLB Network aired two postseason games in 2012 -- Game 2 of the ALDS between the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics and Game 3 of the NLDS between the Cardinals and Washington Nationals.
Their ALDS broadcast drew a 1.3 rating, and the NLDS broadcast drew a 1.25 rating, the two highest-rated games in the network's history.
The network also owns exclusive broadcast rights for another League Division Series game Monday, though that game has not been identified.
MLB Network aired five Pirates games this season when they overlapped with the Penguins. Both teams have broadcast deals with Root Sports.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published October 3, 2013 4:15 AM